Bette Davis, Loretta Young, Rita Hayworth and Sophia Loren - the four Gabaldón sisters - are amazing. Not so much for their names or their special gifts reputedly bequeathed to them by their caretaker Fermina, but for their delightful, sometimes wacky (but always authentic), take on their world. Not only do they seem like sisters, they also seem like real characters you’ve known – or wanted to.
The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters follows these four siblings and their brother as they navigate growing up after losing their mother and then their beloved Fermina. It was Fermina who promised them special gifts upon her death. The girls translate this to mean that Bette is the consummate liar; Loretta has a gift with animals; Rita a scary talent with curses; and Sophie a magical ability to make others laugh.
In this, her first adult novel, author Lorraine López does a superior job bringing the protagonists to life, even the old Pueblo woman Fermina who dies at the start of the book. She does this by alternating narrators; the sisters take turns revealing their lives, thoughts and remembrances of their mother throughout the two decades covered by the story. López then intersperses these chapters with sections of old WPA reports revealing Fermina’s past – and hinting at a family secret.
The notion of whether Fermina is a witch - or a rather ugly fairy godmother - seems rather clear to the reader fairly early on in the novel, but the adult Gabaldón sisters feel compelled to take a road trip to discuss matters with the author of the WPA accounts, and with their aunt who has returned to the old family home in Rio Puerco. It takes some time, but finally the mysteries of their gifts are revealed.
López is a master of dialogue, bringing plenty of humor into the story. “I swear,” comments Bette during a sisters’ discussion of the Gabaldón paterfamilias and his second (and third) wife, “it was like something out of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but without any brains.”
The sisters’ relationships are extremely credible, with Bette and Sophia becoming more compatible as they age while Loretta and Rita share a special bond that becomes strained at times. López also handles the sisters’ development through the years with an expert touch. Readers will have no problem picturing each as a teen, a young woman, and then a mostly mature adult. The only character who ages somewhat strangely is their father, a sullen grump who becomes quite the light-hearted attention seeker in his old age.
López is an assistant professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has won numerous awards for her short stories and young adult literature. In The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters, López weaves a modern-day fairy tale revealing how your special gifts, and where you think they come from, can indeed shape your life.